The Principles of Pilates


First we will establish the basic principles of Pilates. Pilates is not a quick fix and takes commitment and understanding to really develop your full potential. Progress will be slow as we will be looking at

technique and recognition of what we are trying to achieve.  You will need to be able to understand

good alignment as you move and have an awareness of posture whether standing, seated, lying and

during movement.


The session will be easy going and not too demanding. You will see changes in your flexibility,

particularly if you take what you learn outside of the session and start to bring it into your own training sessions and every day life.


You can’t really label each Pilates exercise as one for flexibility or one for strengthening. Each movement is about synchronizing the entire body. In addition, repetitions and load are not a measure of success. Exercises flow and build on one another with a focus on body alignment and control. Success is personal and the individual can only be compared to their previous performance of the exercise.


Click here to see the short video on the Principals of Pilates which we will go through more in depth during our session and there is further information to read below on the principles too.


The basic principles of Pilates

These can be the hardest things to get to grips with.  The principles of Pilates are:-

  • Breathing

So we know we have to breathe and we certainly won’t stop breathing whilst we exercise but what you need to consider is how well are you breathing?  How much oxygen are you getting into your lungs?  Do you have tension in your neck and shoulders a lot of the time?

When we breathe day to day, we tend to breathe less deeply letting the chest rise more and the shoulders.  This creates tension in the neck and shoulders.  It also means you are not getting as much oxygen into the body.  The muscles need oxygen to function and the more they get, the stronger they will be and the better your circulation will be as well.

Pilates breathing encourages breathing into the back of the ribcage.  If you sat and wrapped a flexband around your chest, just under your breast bone, around your rib cage and then focused on your breathing, see whether that bands expands towards the back of you.  You want to feel the band expanding towards the side and back of your rib cage so that you feel a little bit like a compression cylinder that cannot take in any more air and has to release that air gradually and with control so you don’t burst.  Notice as you try to get your breathe to deepen and fill the lower lobes of your lungs that the shoulders stay down and you can feel your stomach muscles working harder to gently let that air out.

This style of breathing takes time to learn but once you get the hang of it, your moves will come more easily and you will feel generally calmer, healthier and you will see your stamina improve.

Remember most of the time, the breath out will be on the exertion and the inbreath quite often is to prepare in the beginning.

It makes more sense to breathe out as you flex over and to breathe in when you extend where possible, however in the beginning to make sure you are starting to engage your core, we tend to use the outbreath for most of the harder parts of the movement.

When you breathe, the diaphragm contracts and flattens, pulling air into the lungs as you breathe in and the pressure inside decreases.  As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the pressure increases within that cavity forcing the air out of you.


The pelvic floor, at the bottom of this cylinder, when activated should feel like that sensation of stopping your flow on the toilet, drawing gently in and upwards between the legs when activated.


The Transversus Abdominus (TVA) also (involuntarily) contracts during many lifts; it is the body’s natural weight-lifting belt, stabilizing the spine and pelvis during lifting movements. It has been found that the contraction of the TVA and other muscles reduces the pressure on the intervertebral discs by as much as 40%.  Failure to engage the TVA during higher intensity lifts is dangerous and encourages injury to the spine. The TVA acts as a girdle or corset by creating hoop tension around the midsection.

What I don’t want you to do is to get too worked up about your breathing because you will do it and although you will be told breath patterns, these are for guidance and to try and help you do the movement.

  • Pelvic placement

Neutral spine is the ideal position for our spine.  A natural ‘s’ shape that is the best shock absorbing position for the spine.  Unfortunately due to office work and everyone getting more sedentary our spines are becoming more of a ‘C’ shape.  In neutral your pelvis will be midway between being tilted forward and back.  Place your hands on your pelvis, heel of hand on hip bones and fingers pointing down between the legs and rock your pelvis forward and back till you find that point where your hands lay flat.  Don’t worry if you cannot get into that position.  We aim to get to neutral if possible as in this position there is less load on our spine.  As our bodies move away from neutral due to poor posture, this will stress the muscles in a different way and create imbalances.


The transversus and the obliques pull the abdomen in gently and we need to be able to activate these when in neutral as the start of laying down our good foundations.  We need to work on holding these muscles tight over time, gradually building up their endurance before we start loading moves.


For your information, the action of a sit up predominantly uses the rectus abdominus and external obliques.


Try this, lie on the floor with your feet flat and your knees bent, inhale and exaggerate a pelvic tilt by tucking your coccyx under and up, now roll your pelvis down by arching your back into an exaggerated pelvic arch. Half way in between these exaggerated positions is your neutral spine. When doing any type of Pilates movement you always want to aim for a neutral spine. However, if your abdominal muscles are weak you may feel the need to imprint the lower back by flattening the lumbar curve and having your back connect with the mat/floor.



We are also refer to imprint as a position for the spine which is used if we are considering lifting our legs up away from the floor and also if you are doing any heavy lifting, it would be more prudent to use imprint to stabilise our spine.  Imprint means that we flexing our lower back towards the mat so that we are shortening our stomach muscles.

Begin imprinting by lying on your back with your arms by your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. You will be in neutral spine then allow your spine to rest with its natural curves against the floor or you can do it against the wall.

Now visualize your spine lengthening and sinking down to the mat, lightly imprinting. Just let it happen. As you relax, you can breathe deeply into the spaces opening up between your vertebrae.  Your rectus abdominus will get involved in this movement but we must make sure that we do not lose our connection to our transversus and pelvic floor.

  • Rib cage placement


The abdominal wall (that protects your organs – transversus and the other abdominal and back muscles) attaches to your ribs so when we breathe in the rib cage lifts up and out and when we breathe out, it moves in and down.  We want to have a sense of awareness of what our rib cage is doing so that if we breathe we can feel the movement up and down and if we lift our arms over head we can feel the rib cage lift up and open slightly but not so much that you feel a huge gap between your ribs.  You want to feel a slight weight through your breast bone as the arms reach.  This will ensure you have a connection with your core so you don’t leave your lower back vulnerable.


  • When you exhale think of drawing the two sides of your ribs towards each other.
  • When we flex, we want to feel the ribs move closer together and slide forwards towards the pelvis.
  • When we go into extension, the ribs will open out and up.



Stand in front of the mirror and watch what happens to your rib cage and back as your arms go over head.  Play around with your position till you find a range where you don’t arch your mid to upper back as the arms go over head and you can still feel your rib cage.

  • Shoulder stability

The shoulder stabilisers are very important as the shoulder is an extremely vulnerable joint with so much movement.  You want to get an awareness of what your shoulder blades are doing so if you are lying on the floor, you should feel them flat against the back of the rib cage.  When you move the upper body, you should feel the shoulder blades glide towards each other, never jamming.

Try holding your arms out in front of you and then reach them as far forward as you can with straight arms.  See how your shoulders round forward and up towards the ears.  Try now to pull the shoulders back using the muscles between your shoulder blades – rhomboids.  You should be able to draw your shoulders back, almost as though sticking the chest out.

Can you elevate your shoulders and are you able to pull them down and depress them?  The more you can move your shoulders and be aware of where they are, the less likely you are going to suffer from neck and shoulder tension.

  • Head and neck placement


The skull should balance directly above the shoulders when sitting, standing with neck holding its natural curve.  When asked to raise your head off the head pad/floor, it is important to do so carefully. Your head always remains a natural extension of your spine so you must not arch it or tilt it forward. As you lift your head gently nod forward drawing the chin down slightly but without creating wrinkles in the skin of the neck.  When lifting the torso the aim is to lift the shoulders until the tips of your scapulas or backs of your shoulder blades are touching the mat.


We will also spend a little time teaching the Pilates breathing method. Each class starts with breathing and this is incorporated into each exercise using visual cues and proprioceptive techniques to help you improve.  One such technique is to expand the ribs to the “east and west” (laterally) when inhaling through the nose and then exhale through the mouth. Also to make a prolonged exhale sound when exhaling and imagine your ribs sliding down towards your hips.


Hopefully we are now more aware of the principles of Pilates, why we have them and you will over the next few weeks get to grips with the breathing and over time start to remember the names of some the exercises we use to emphasise the principles and have a greater body awareness.   Don’t be too hard on yourself if the breathing is not coming straight away as this can take months, even years.  We want you to be able to move more than you used to and in a better way, so you are going to breathe whatever we do so just let it happen.



 10 warm up exerises


We will now look at the 10 essential warm up exercises that we use at the beginning of classes. The order does vary from class to class in which these exercises are done and props may be used to assist the movements.


Here is a list of some of the exercises we will be covering so you can keep track of the names:-


Warm up

Pelvic tilts standing, seated, laying

Imprint and neutral spine

Hip release

Shoulder awareness – rounding forward and drawing back

Arm circles

Spine Twist

Hip rolls

Head nods

Elevation and depression of shoulders – shrugs


Again click here to see video below on these exercises.



 Matwork exercises

We will start with some of with some of the essential matwork exercises.  As we start to teach how to do Pilates exercises correct form will be of utmost importance so we won’t get through a huge amount but at least cover the basic moves that feature in virtually every class.


All of the exercises have levels, and will start at the lowest level, only moving to a higher level as you show progress. Emphasis is on quality of the exercise, rather than the quantity of reps.


Main exercises

To see all the exercises one by one, please click here

Ab Prep

Breast stroke Preps 1 and 2

The Hundred

Half Roll Back

One Leg Circle

Spine Twist

Rolling Like a Ball


Remember this course is to lay down the foundations of your pilates knowledge and experience therefore you need to be sure of what you are trying to achieve so you can always email me after the session if you have queries and I will get back to you during the course of the week.


Joseph Pilates said that


“In 10 sessions, you will feel the difference, in 20 sessions you will see the difference and in 30 sessions you will have a whole new body.”


This is very true but it does take commitment to attending the classes and for the best results attendance more than once a week.


You will receive more videos over the next few weeks that go through more of the basic exercises to assist your learning.